Raynard Tissink Triathlon Coach
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Efficiency in swimming

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 By Natalie Tissink of Team Tissink Triathlon

Every race you do will be a learning curve. There will always be something you can improve on or change in your quest to have that perfect race. In the next few blogs, we’ll be discussing each of the different disciplines in more depth so as to give you a better idea of what to focus on in your training.

Let’s start with swimming:

Swim training is probably the most challenging of the 3 disciplines, especially if you don’t come from a swimming background or have never learnt to swim properly.  The swim is also the shortest and therefore should be the easiest part of a triathlon. Yet for a lot of people it is the hardest, because of the fear of an open water or sea swim.

The swim start can be quite frantic, with hundreds of people starting together. There is no black line to follow on the bottom of the pool - instead you’re faced with muddy, murky water or massive waves to get through. Overcoming this fear and learning to relax is vital in ensuring a smooth and efficient swim. As soon as you panic or tense up - your stroke will shorten and you end up rushing through the stroke, fighting the water, gasping for air and wasting energy. 

The old saying ‘Practice makes perfect’, is true, but you need to ensure correct technique first. So, step 1 is to find a reputable swim coach that can analyse your stroke and help you to make the necessary adjustments. A video analysis is very helpful in correcting bad habits, because it’s always easier if you can actually see what it is you are doing.

Swimming technique is not something you can teach yourself. You cannot correct yourself, if you don’t know what you are doing wrong. Here are some drills to incorporate into your training, which should help develop correct technique and make you a more efficient swimmer.


Focus on keeping your feet and legs relaxed. Feet and toes pointed, working on small, fast kicking right at the surface. Your heels should break the surface. You can use short fins to help increase the flexibility in your ankles, but ensure that you keep the kick fast.

One-arm freestyle:

  • Keep one arm extended in front of your head (can hold onto a board to begin with to help with co-ordination).
  • With one arm only, stretch forward on entry.
  • Catch the water (imagine grabbing onto a rope), Pull your body forward over your hand then push your body forward.• Let your hand brush past your thigh before lifting your elbow up, rolling your shoulder forward and stretching back into the water again.• BREATHE on every 2ndstroke. Relax your shoulders and turn your head with your shoulders to breathe (move as one). Look along the water when breathing, not up and not back.

Catch up:

  • Hold a board in front of you with both hands in the centre of the board.
  • Start pulling with the one arm, again working on pulling and pushing your body forward.
  • Lift elbow up and relax arm on recovery.
  • Stretch forward, and hold board for 2 sec before repeating with the other arm.
  • Breathe on every 2nd stroke.
  • Once you are comfortable with this drill, do it without the board. So start with one hand on top of the other, finish each stroke by sliding your hand over the other hand and holding for 2 seconds.

Follow up:

  • Similar to catch up, but your arms keep moving, so instead of stopping for 2 sec, slide one hand over the other, as you stretch forward.

Normal crawl:

  • As your one hand is entering the water, start pulling with your opposite hand.
  • Emphasise keeping your stroke LONG in the front, and finishing the stroke by brushing your thigh.
  • Think about pulling yourself forward on the ‘rope', and then pushing yourself away.
  • Relax your shoulders and neck in breathing. Practice breathing on every 3rd stroke, so to the left and the right. 
  • Keep the kick small and fast at the surface. If your legs feel too low, put your head down in the water to bring your legs up.
  • You should look about 1 ½ m in front of you on the floor of the pool.
  • Keep body straight, in forward motion.


  • Work on strong powerful exhaling into the water, just before turning your head, so that when you do turn to breathe, you can take in a deep, controlled breath.

To be a great swimmer, you need to first overcome any fears you may have, and develop a love for swimming. You need to be as relaxed as possible in the swim and you need to ENJOY doing it. If you enjoy doing something, it will immediately become easier and you will achieve success.

I’ll be covering more on this in our next blog. For now try to make your swim sessions fun. Add variety to the sessions, relax in the water and start enjoying swimming.  The most important tip I can give you is to not over-think it. There is so much information out there on swimming technique that it’s very easy to get confused. 

  1. Relax your shoulders and breathing.
  2. Keep the stroke long.
  3. Work on a powerful and controlled pull and push motion under the water.It’s as simple as that!

Raynard and Natalie Tissink are the coaches of Team Tissink Triathlon.  Natalie was a South African National swimming champion, Springbok life-saver and National triathlete. She has over 25 years of experience in swimming and triathlon coaching. 


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After a great first year racing in the professional category in 2016, I was amped for the 2017 season. Feeling stronger and fitter and more in the "right head space" - I had done some great training over December spending many many many (and many more) hours on the bike - I loved it. My swim was starting to click, I was starting to understand the phrase "feel the water", and my running was strong

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